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USDA Group Takes "Health Pulse" of the Delta Region

By Jill Lee
September 14, 1998

High blood pressure and teen pregnancy are the top health problems in the U.S. Delta region, according to a survey of 500 community leaders there. The survey, which covered 36 counties in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, also showed leaders in all three states think residents eat too many high-fat foods.

The survey was the work of the Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative (Delta NIRI). The U.S. Department of Agriculture and several universities joined forces to create the project to identify nutrition and health problems in Delta communities and find ways to help solve them. Within USDA, the Agricultural Research Service leads the project.

Some of the survey results--and methods--will be discussed at ARS' "What We Eat In America: Research and Results" meeting on Sept. 15 at 9:00 a.m. at the DoubleTree Hotel in Rockville, Md.

The community leaders who were interviewed included ministers, public health officials, teachers and other individuals with a knowledge of their towns. They were asked to rate the top health and nutrition problems and speculate on their causes.

Arkansas leaders rated teen pregnancy as the top health problem; the other two states cited high blood pressure. For nutrition, high-fat foods topped the list, followed by too much fast food and a lack of nutritional information. This fall, residents will answer diet and health questions to validate the community leaders' perspectives.

The survey of community leaders is a first step in helping Delta communities solve their health and nutrition problems because it tells Delta NIRI members what programs would be well-received and effective. The interviews with residents will be the next step in that process.

Compared with national figures, average birth weight is lower in the Delta region, and Delta families have higher rates of infant mortality and cardiovascular disease. The Delta poverty rate averages 29 percent versus the 12 percent national average.

Scientific contact: Margaret Bogle, Executive Director, Delta NIRI, USDA-ARS, Little Rock, Ark. Phone (501) 671-2346, fax (501) 671-2349,

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